This article is an extract from the ‘Commons in South East Europe: Cases of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia’ study, published by the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, in spring 2018. The study aims to contribute to the debate on commons in the region, and it consists of two parts: 1) a theoretical part written by Tomislav Tomašević and 2) case studies and cases of struggles for the commons, written by local authors, which we will be publishing here individually in a few separate articles. To read the entire study, please follow the link above.
Author: Miodrag Dakić
DESCRIPTION OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE
History of public use of this green area located on a hill within the urban zone of Banja Luka started with building a monument to several thousands of fallen partisan soldiers in World War II. This hill, which citizens of Banja Luka use for recreation, was given the name “Šehitluci”, after Muslim warriors that died in the vicinity in the 19th century. However, at the beginning of the war conflict between ethnic Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks in 1992, the name of the area was changed to Banj Brdo (Banj Hill) as the previous name bothered the local authorities of Banja Luka, which is predominantly inhabited by ethnic Serbs. Today some citizens of Banja Luka prefer the old name, while others insist on the new formal one. After several traffic accidents, in 2006 the City of Banja Luka adopted the “Instruction On Traffic Regulation On Banja Luka Territory”, which restricted traffic of motorized vehicles on the access road to the monument at the top of Banj brdo, with some exemptions for the vehicles of local residents and employees in local institutions and tourist facilities. In 2010, after several traffic accidents in which careless bicyclists hit pedestrians, the City added a sign prohibiting bicyclist traffic on the access road, but without official amendments to the Instructions. A group of bicyclists refused to accept that all bicyclists are punished because of a few irresponsible individuals, so they organised an action in order to protest this decision of the local authorities, but also the governance of the recreational area in general. Many bicyclists continued to use the access road despite the traffic sign, but due to the constantly growing public pressure, the institutions stopped enforcing this rule. In 2011 the City administration authorized an investor who is connected to the ruling party to reconstruct the former restaurant building situated near the monument, so the local government intended to remove the traffic ban for motorized vehicles on the access road. This was criticized by the group as a new attack of local authorities on the recreational use of the area, because the access road would become a noisy street with heavy car traffic. The group was joined by new concerned citizens and they launched a public advocacy campaign against the plan. In order to build its own identity, the group named itself “Citizens Initiative Recreational Zone Banja Luka”, because they wanted to avoid conflict over using the name Šehitluci or Banj Brdo. In 2013, the Initiative, helped by experts, created the “Independent Analysis For Recreational Bicycling Introduction on Banj Hill”, which proposed a technical solution for road-sharing between pedestrians and bicyclists with the speed limit of 20 km/h. The Initiative started to propose and develop different rules and instructions for using the recreational area and organized various maintenance activities to improve the area. They also had an opening ceremony for the area, the “Recreational Zone Banja Luka” (rzbl), and the public started using this informal name. With time, the general public started to recognise the Initiative as the supervising and governing actor of the area, even though this is not recognised by the local authorities.
Resource of the Recreational Zone Banja Luka is a green area within the urban zone of Banja Luka, estimated to have a surface of 500 hectares or 5 km2. This resource has several elements: the monument at the top of the Banj Brdo, recreational space Trešnjik, paved access roads, forest paths and the surrounding forest. The monument was built by the famous sculptor August Augustinčić in 1961 and added to the list of monuments of national importance the following year. The “Commission for Preservation of National Monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina” confirmed its protected status in 2013. Recreational space Trešnjik is an open field in a forest near the monument that is regularly used for recreation, leisure activities, picnics, etc. Both the monument and Trešnjik area are situated at 450 metres altitude, which is approximately 300 metres above the city level. Access road to the monument is 4,5 km long and it was built in 1953, with a high participation of the general public in voluntary work actions, while the access road to the Trešnjik area is about 0,5 kilometres long. Forest paths are numerous, but most of them are not mapped, categorized and regularly maintained.
Community of the Recreational Zone Banja Luka is firstly the Citizens Initiative with the same name. The Initiative is an informal group of concerned citizens that undertake a wide range of activities focused on the governance of the recreational area and on advocacy towards local government for better governance of the area. The core group of the Initiative had 15 members in the beginning, but it currently has 6 members because the general public lost interest after they succeeded in their advocacy campaign against allowing vehicles on the access road. The people in the core group are two women and four men, and are mostly highly educated. The core group is supported by several hundreds of people who are on the contact list and regularly participate in the Initiative’s activities. The even wider community are around 10.000 citizens of Banja Luka who participated in massive walks and gatherings organized by the Initiative in order to put public pressure on the local government. Finally, potential users of the Recreational Zone Banja Luka are all inhabitants and visitors of Banja Luka who use it for recreational activities, so daily visits range from a few hundred to up to more than 10.000 people.
Institutions for governing the Recreational Zone of Banja Luka are formal and informal. The official name of the area is Banj Brdo and the local government of Banja Luka has legal authority and responsibility to govern it. Specifically, the Tourist Organisation of Banja Luka is responsible for the governance, which they share with the Banja Luka County public forest company, since it is responsible for managing forests. The informal name of the area is “Recreational Zone Banja Luka” and it is governed by the informal citizens’ initiative with the same name, which challenged the City over traffic regulation on the access road. The Initiative does not have legal authority to set rules for using the recreational area, but they still give guidelines to users of the recreational area related to environmental protection, protection of cultural heritage, maintenance of the common infrastructure etc. They are even approached by potential users for permits or when they are interested in improving the area, which was the case with Molson Coors company who in 2016 contacted the Initiative because they wanted to donate money for the infrastructure of the area. The Initiative regularly publishes instructions for users on their Facebook page, along with calls to citizens for voluntary work organized by the Initiative for the maintenance and improvement of the area. The Initiative also, when appropriate, contacts the City of Banja Luka regarding the implementation of existing legislation and formal rules, but also proposes improvements of these formal rules.
Challenges related to the Recreational Zone Banja Luka are many, but two are highlighted. The first one is involvement of new people into the core group of the Initiative, which shrank with time. While thousands of people are openly supportive of the Initiative’s activities, few are ready to engage in the core group which organises the activities. The second challenge is the fact that the Initiative does not have legal authority over the governance of the recreational area, since this is in the hands of the local government, which has its own ideas about how the area should be used. The Initiative managed to win the advocacy campaign and after the 2016 local elections the new mayor of Banja Luka promised that the ban on motorized vehicles would not be cancelled. Even though all the city institutions consult the Initiative on different issues related to governing the area, the question remains to which extent the City administration is ready to fully cooperate with the Initiative on governing the area.
ANALYSIS OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE USING OSTROM’S 8 DESIGN PRINCIPLES
A) clearly defined boundaries
Boundaries of the resource area are only defined to a certain level. Boundaries of some elements (monument, Trešnjik area, paved access roads) are easier to define, while the boundaries of forest paths and the surrounding forest are not clearly defined, which might change with the new “Zoning Plan for Forest Park Starčevica”. It is difficult to exclude pedestrian users of this recreational area because of its size, location within the urban zone of Banja Luka and the numerous forest paths that enter the recreational area. It is possible to exclude external unentitled parties on the access road because there is a ramp at the beginning of the road operated by the Tourist Organisation guards, who are checking whether motorized vehicles satisfy some of the exemptions in order to have permit to drive through. All stakeholders agree that the recreational area should be accessible to all pedestrians without any physical or financial restrictions, but the exclusion of bicyclists from the recreational area is still a matter of dispute between the Initiative and the City.
B) congruence between appropriation & provision rules & local conditions
There is some connection between rules for use and rules for taking care of the Recreational Zone, while both of these are adapted to local conditions. There are general appropriation rules of the recreational area which are defined mostly within regional and local legislation, related to cultural heritage protection, environmental protection, road safety, forest management, etc. There are also specific appropriation rules for this particular recreational area, like traffic regulation for the access road, and these are defined by the City of Banja Luka. The recreational area is a resource accessible to the entire public, without any entrance fee, so the specific provision rules are not set because the maintenance of the resource should be funded through the budget of the City of Banja Luka, which is filled by all tax payers in Banja Luka and not only the users of the recreational area. The Initiative imposed certain appropriation rules, such as forbidding the visitors to climb the monument for safety and heritage protection reasons. Provision rules for the core group of the Initiative are related to the distribution of work in monitoring the usage and maintenance of the recreational area. For example, in 2015 the Initiative organized a fundraising and the construction of 36 benches. With the help of around 100 supporters, the Initiative installed these benches in the Recreational Zone without a permit from the local authorities. However, there is poor connection between appropriation and provision rules for the Initiative because the core group members are volunteers who sometimes invest more labour for the recreational area than paid city employees who are responsible for it. Despite this, the core group members of the Initiative are not rewarded for this work with any special benefits and they have the same usage rights in the recreational area as all visitors.
C) collective-choice arrangements
Since 2014, the core group of the Initiative has regular monthly meetings at which they discuss and decide on proposals for rules, such as the speed limit of 20 km/h for bicyclists and vehicles with permit on the access road, even though this rule is still not recognized by local authorities. The core group is open to new members who want to contribute to the governance of the Recreational Zone. Decisions in the core group are made by consensus and then communicated through social media to the Initiative supporters, and through mainstream media to all the users of the Recreational Zone. The core group also consults professional associations and public institutions before making decisions on the usage. Users of the recreational area are not directly involved in the decision-making process, but their suggestions and remarks expressed on the Initiative’s Facebook page are taken into account. On the other hand, formal rules about using the recreational area are made by local authorities without consulting the users, and this was the reason why the Initiative was established by interested users in the first place. This has been slowly changing, and both the Tourist Organization of Banja Luka and the public forest company that are formally governing the recreational area consult the Initiative and other users more and more.
Due to insufficient financial and human resources allocated by local authorities for management of the recreational area, a number of illegal activities like logging, foraging of protected plant species, littering and damaging the infrastructure happen in the area. In numerous cases, users who witness these activities report them to the Initiative core group, despite the fact that they cannot impose sanctions. In these cases, the core group informs the responsible local institutions and in some cases the police. The core group also invites users to report violations of certain informal rules set by the Initiative, like violation of the 20 km/h speed limit for the bicyclists, through social and mainstream media. The Initiative not only monitors users, but also public institutions in their governance of the recreational area. If some public institutions violate formal rules, the supervising institutions are warned about this, and if there is no sufficient reaction, the Initiative informs mainstream media in order to create public pressure.
E) graduated sanctions
Formal rules like the one about the protection of the monument on top of the Banj brdo are supposed to be enforced by the police and communal guards. This does not happen in practice because the police and communal guards are rarely present in the Recreational Zone and members of the core group do not know of a case when somebody was fined for the violation of these formal rules. When it comes to traffic on the access road, sanctions for unauthorised car drivers are no longer needed, since they cannot pass the ramp without a permit, while nobody sanctions bicyclists even though they are officially not permitted in the recreational area. The Initiative does not have legal authority to impose graduated sanctions for violation of formal or informal rules in the recreational area, but they do warn violators on site or through electronic communication when they are identified. Finally, the gravest sanction the Initiative can impose is naming and shaming violators on social media and in mainstream media, which has proven to be effective in preventing such behaviour.
There are different conflicts in the usage of the Recreational Zone Banja Luka. The first was the conflict between pedestrians and car drivers about using the access road, so the City decided to impose a ban on motorised vehicles. After that, there was the conflict between pedestrians and some irresponsible bicyclists who used the road for speedy downhill, which endangered the safety of pedestrians. Instead of regulating this, the City decided to ban access to all bicyclists, which created the conflict with the City, and the Initiative was established because of that and other disputes with the local government on how the area is governed. It is not clear who is responsible for the resolution of conflicts between users, as they approach both the City and the Initiative, which are sometimes themselves in mutual conflict over how the area should be governed. This started to change after 2016, with the new local government, and it seems that the City and the Initiative are cooperating more closely on usage conflicts in the recreational area. For example, after consulting experts, the Initiative proposed a technical solution for bicyclists and pedestrians sharing the access road, so there would be no conflicts in using it. Furthermore, as many pedestrians protest when vehicles use the access road, the Initiative proposed that there be a visible flag or sticker introduced for vehicles with permission, so pedestrians are aware that these drivers are not violating the rules.
G) minimal recognition of rights to organize
Recreational area is formally governed by the City of Banja Luka, but the Initiative established by the users decided to name this area Recreational Zone Banja Luka and challenged local authorities on how it was governed. Local authorities at first denied the Initiative, which is not even a legal entity, any right to decide on how this area will be governed. However, as the Initiative gained huge public support and started to carry out maintenance activities in the recreational area, the attitude of the public institutions towards the Initiative started to change, especially after the local elections in 2016. The City administration has been increasingly recognizing the Initiative as an informal partner in governing the area, which is evident from several examples. There is constant dialogue with the Tourist Organisation of Banja Luka, the core group members are consulted by the City about reconstructing the forest paths, they are involved in the development of the new Zoning Plan and the Initiative was even invited to present the Recreational Zone Banja Luka at the tourist fair. What remains a problem is that for further formal recognition the Initiative should become a legal entity, and this is something avoided by the core group because ngos in this country have quite a bad reputation.
H) nested enterprise
Not applicable as the Recreational Zone Banja Luka is not part of a bigger resource which is under commons governance regime.
The Recreational Zone Banja Luka is not a typical commons case, as there is competition over governance of the recreational area between the local government and the citizens’ initiative. City institutions did not govern this resource in the interest of the majority of users, so some of these dissatisfied users self-organised and started governing the recreational area. Analysis shows that it is difficult to exclude users from accessing this resource, but politically all stakeholders agree that it should be available to all visitors as a public good. This means that it’s probably best that local government institutions govern the area and finance its maintenance, but since there is a group of interested users who are organised within the Initiative, it should be in partnership with them. The governance model for this recreational area could be some form of public-civic partnership in which both the City and the Initiative co-govern the Recreational Zone Banja Luka. However, for this model to be formalised, the Initiative would have to become a legal entity. For long-term sustainability it would also be important to somehow reward the voluntary work of the core group members in the Initiative.
Tomašević, T., Horvat, V., Midžić, A, Dragšić, I., Dakić, M. (2018): Commons in South East Europe: Case of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia. Institute for Political Ecology, Zagreb.
Photos from Rekreativna Zona Banja Luka